The Census Bureau collects data about the economy and the people living in the United States from many different sources. Some data are collected from respondents directly (including businesses), through the censuses and surveys we conduct. We also collect additional data from other sources. Primary sources for additional data are federal, state, and local governments, as well as some commercial entities. These types of data are generally called “administrative data.”
This information is called “administrative data” because data collected and maintained by agencies are used to administer (or run) programs and provide services to the public.
The Census Bureau is required by law to obtain and reuse data that already exists at other agencies. These data are reused to cut the cost of data collection and research, and also to reduce the burden on people who respond to our census and survey questions.
By reusing data that already exists elsewhere, and linking it to census and survey data, the Census Bureau is able to conduct research that allows us to see the larger picture about the people and economy of the United States.
By combining these data together, researchers can answer questions we couldn’t answer before. This type of research allows the Census Bureau to help other government agencies better understand how their programs are working, and where they could be improved.
For example, Social Security Administration data are combined with Census data to understand how many people will need Social Security benefits in the coming years and to plan for funding this important program. In addition, data from Medicare, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Census Bureau are combined to find out how many children need healthcare in the U.S. and how much funding will be needed as a result.
All of the information we collect through censuses and surveys, as well as the administrative data we obtain, is confidential and protected by federal law. Data are only linked to answer questions that are part of a research projects that are approved by the Census Bureau and support our mission.
Research results that are published do not identify any individuals. Rather, summarized data is released that represent groups of people—generally in tables of numbers. Before releasing any statistics to the public, the Census Bureau reviews them to make sure none of the information or characteristics could identify someone (or a business).
New Jersey's use of a Census Bureau tool that combines state and federal data helped its Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
Smart use of administrative data is just one of the promising innovations planned for the 2020 Census. By reusing information people have already provided, we can improve accuracy and reduce the need for census takers to knock on doors, saving time and money.
Follow the links below to learn more about these activities.